‘Kids are safe’ – but schools row deepens

Testing times: The British Medical Association said infection rates were too high. © Getty

Is it safe to go back to school? Teaching unions argue that the government is putting parents, teachers, and pupils at risk. But some research suggests that schools should reopen.

No passing notes, no spreading diseases.

In one Norwegian school, half of the day is spent in a local park.

On the French-Belgium border, one primary school encourages children to stay within a chalk circle drawn on the floor during their break time.

In Daejeon, South Korea, high school students sit at desks surrounded by see-through plastic barriers.

Across the EU, 22 countries have now allowed schools to reopen. There has not been any sign of a major second wave, though 70 schools in France have had to shut again because of Covid-19.

In the UK, 11 councils have expressed concerns about the speed at which schools are being asked to reopen. A cabinet minister said that the government was taking those worries “very seriously”.

Despite several thousand new cases of the coronavirus being recorded each day, the government plans to reopen Reception, Year 1, and Year 6 classes on 1 June.

This has led to many parents and teachers feeling nervous about putting themselves or their children at risk.

Indeed, teachers’ unions have pushed back against these plans calling them “reckless” and “premature”.

In retaliation, the Daily Mail branded such cautiousness “militant” and called on teachers to be “heroes”.

But what do the experts think?

In the Italian town of Vò, almost everyone was tested for the coronavirus. In total, 2.6% of the population had caught the virus. Despite this, not a single child tested positive – including those who were living with infected adults.

Research by a lecturer at the Newcastle University found that across children in the UK, USA, France, Spain, Italy, and South Korea, there had been just 43 recorded Covid-19 deaths – fewer than 0.2% of total deaths for that age group. In the words of the researcher, “The main reason we are keeping children at home is to protect adults.”

However, keeping schools closed might create another set of harms for the children themselves.

Lee Hudson, the head of mental health at Great Ormond Street Hospital, says, “Schools are a vital part of the provision of safeguarding children and families. After all, around 20% of social service referrals come from schools.”

The founder of the Sutton Trust, a social mobility charity, said the lockdown is “really hurting children in moderate and low income households”.

So, is it safe to go back to school?

Textbook debate

Yes. Children are the least likely to be affected by Covid-19 and deserve to be learning around their friends. The mental well-being of young people is important. Of course, as one doctor says, “A zero-risk approach is not possible.” But life is full of dangers. Sacrificing the social and mental development of a generation seems riskier than a few children catching a virus that barely affects them.

No. There is no rush. So long as the virus is circulating, there is a chance of a second wave. Maintaining social distancing will be incredibly challenging, especially when it comes to younger children. Why send everyone back now? Teachers, parents, and pupils are all a little scared. The summer holidays are just round the corner. Let us focus on defeating the virus, then aim to go back to normal in September.

You Decide

  1. Would you feel safe going back to school? Does your household feel safe about you returning to school?
  2. What do you miss most about being in school? Could you ever get that from online learning?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are in charge of ensuring social distancing in your classroom. How would you rearrange the room? Draw a blueprint.
  2. Write a list of all the measures and reassurances you would want from the government before you would feel 100% comfortable going back to school. Use the expert links to gain inspiration.

Some People Say...

“The authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn.”

Cicero (106BC-43BC), Roman statesman and lawyer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Keeping schools closed is unfair on poorer students. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, “Children in families where parents earn more spend around six hours on school work, while the lower-earning households spend approximately four and a half hours.” Closing schools is not critical to controlling Covid-19. Russell Viner, a professor at Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health says the “conclusion is that school closures are not the biggest players”.
What do we not know?
On Tuesday, a World Health Organisation doctor told Sky News that, though they knew that children could catch the virus, they were still unsure how infectious children were or, indeed, if they could pass the disease on to teachers or parents. Returning to school in the UK will be voluntary and it is unclear how many families will be okay with sending children back. We also do not know what social distancing will look like in different schools, especially if they are being required to have no more than 15 children in a class.

Word Watch

Second wave
The idea that the virus will spread across the population again at a later date, causing even more devastation. This is what happened with the Spanish Flu in 1918.
Unions
A trade union is an association of workers which can fight for the rights of workers and defend them against unfair working conditions.
Retaliation
Counter-attack.
Militant
Favouring confrontational or violent methods in support of a political or social cause.
Great Ormond Street Hospital
One of the world’s leading children’s hospitals. It is located in central London and was opened in 1852. Royalties from the book Peter Pan help support the work of the hospital.
Safeguarding
Measures that protect the health, well-being, and human rights of individuals – especially children, young people, and vulnerable adults.
Social service referrals
Contacting local social services about concerns about a child’s welfare.
Social mobility
The movement of individuals, families, and households between the different socio-economic classes of a society. The rags to riches story is the classic example. The fairer a society, the more likely there will be a large amount of social mobility.

Subjects

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